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Interview With Nigerian TV Host And Documentary Filmmaker Bolanle Olukanni; Interview With "An Affirming Flame" Author And The New York Times Chief Correspondent Paris Roger Cohen; Interview With King's College London Professor Of European And Foreign Affairs And U.K. In A Changing Europe Director Anand Menon; Interview With New York Times Columnist David Brooks. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 28, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
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NEWTON: Tensions simmer as the votes are counted in Nigeria's close presidential election. My conversation with popular Nigerian broadcaster,
Then, how autocracy is creeping up on the 21st century. "The New York Times" Roger Cohen's joins us with his meditations on life and politics.
Also, ahead. A new deal to the U.K. and European Union. But will it steady Northern Island's politics and help preserve its treasured peace. I asked
Anand Menon, an expert on European politics.
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DAVID BROOKS, AUTHOR, "HOW DO YOU SERVE A FRIEND IN DESPAIR?": To be present is no small thing for somebody.
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NEWTON: How to serve a friend in despair. A heartfelt conversation between our Hari Sreenivasan and journalist David Brooks who lost a lifelong friend
And a warm welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Paula Newton in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
So, Nigeria's main opposition parties are calling for a fresh election before the ballots are even counted. They're saying that Saturday's
presidential vote was "Irretrievably compromise." Now, these concerns come as Nigerian people complain of intimidation, violence, and voter
suppression. Here's some of their reporting from our Larry Madowo who's on the ground in Nigeria.
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LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): The Nigerian army rolled into a neighborhood in Lagos. Where voters at two polling units
spent all of election day waiting to cast their ballots but poll officials did not show up. They returned the next day and waited several more hours.
Growing impatient as the chance to vote slowly slipped away.
ABIGAIL SAMUEL, LAGOS VOTER: Nothing works in this country. Nothing works in this country. They're not security. There is no good hospitals. There's
neither good book (ph). Nothing works. Educational system is in shambles. And for once, youth are coming out to vote. And we are being
disenfranchised in broad daylight. It is heartbreaking.
MADOWO (voiceover): Abigail Samuel's pain is shared by other young people who registered to vote in record numbers in this election, hoping to reboot
a deeply dysfunctional Nigeria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I must fight for daughter, please. I must fight for her. She must have a better life. She must go to better school. I'm tired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are tired. Me, I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing this crap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: You can get a clear sense of the frustration there. Now, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission say, they're tallying the
results of all of these polling stations and these areas, and they say that they've counted them including those missing polling units. They're saying,
it is constitutional, and that there was violence of the polling stations. CNN, in fact, saw no signs of violence at the units where workers didn't
Now, so for, the official count says the ruling party candidate, Bola Tinubu, actually leads right now nationally. But a shocking result saw him
lose in Lagos to outsider candidate Peter Obi. Now, this rollercoaster of an election is Africa's largest democracy member (ph). And, of course, its
largest economy as well.
It will, you can bet on it, have an impact beyond the country's borders. So, we want to get a feel for what's going on at this hour in Nigeria with
Bolanle Olukanni. She is a popular television broadcaster and filmmaker and she joins us now from Lagos.
Thank you so much for joining us on what we can see has been a tumultuous couple of days in Nigeria. You know, what were you hoping from this
election? And what do you think Nigerians ended up with here? We saw a glimpse, really, there of the chaos, of the confusion, and the fact that
things are still so tense.
BOLANLE OLUKANNI, NIGERIAN TV HOST AND DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Yes. So, I think when it comes to what were we hoping, you know, INEC, the body that
is conducting the elections passed an electoral act in 2022. And pretty much the electoral act said that the results were going to be transmitted
on their platform.
So, it was going to be an electronic transmission. Once the votes were done being correlated and counted at the polling unit, right after then they had
a device that will allow them to capture the results from the polling unit and it was going to be transmitted and uploaded directly onto a platform
that every single Nigerian would have the opportunity to be able to see the results. That did not happen.
You saw situations where INEC officials, the people who are conducting the elections at the polling units, refused to upload the results. You saw
situations where they said that they didn't have the ability to, that the device was slow. And even more so, the actual portal that has the results
up to now up to, up to 50 percent of the polling units results have not been uploaded. So, the question, I think, all of us are asking is at the
correlation center that's happening right now in the counting in Abuja, what are you guys counting? Like, what results are you showing us?
Number two, a lot of the results are being uploaded on to the database do not compare with the results that people took pictures off on their phone.
I think what people have to understand is that Nigerians didn't just vote and leave. They stayed at their polling units to 1:00, 2:00 a.m., 3:00 am,
and counted those results with the INEC officials.
So, we all have proof of what actually happened at our polling units. And we have pictures of it and we're seeing that it's not the same thing that
they're telling us at the polling center correlations center in Abuja. It feels like -- it's just basically they're lying to us right to our faces.
And there seems to be no responsibility for that. You know, this election is not just important. It is make-or-break for Nigeria.
NEWTON: I can hear the emotion, obviously. And as you point out, this was supposed to be technology that was supposed to make things more
transparent, not less so. I take your point. People are posting these results of the discrepancies all over social media. I've seen them for
Now, to give an example, where you are, you voiced particular concern about Lagos. So, you know, why? What did you see there that told you were being
OLUKANNI: Lagos State is -- when you think about Lagos, Lagos is a metropolitan city. We all know the role and the power that social media
has, especially in Lagos. A lot of people in Lagos are tired of the ruling party. A lot of people in Lagos also came out to vote. The numbers that
they're telling us of people that came out to vote, it doesn't correlate with what really happened.
A lot of people were disenfranchised. They were not able to vote because there were thugs that were sponsored to come and disrupt the polling units.
We saw videos of people, thugs, coming to polling units and the police officers did absolutely nothing. They did nothing.
So, to us we're kind of asking ourselves, like, why are we not being allowed to vote? What is the reason? What are people so afraid of that's
going to come out if Nigerians choose to say, OK, this is who I want to cast my vote for. At the end of the day, Nigeria is at the breaking point.
And I think for every single Nigerian, especially young people, the voting population of the people who are registered is about 59 percent are youth.
And those people came out to vote, you know, they came out to vote. The numbers are not correlating with what they said.
Not only that, this afternoon, we actually had PDP, which is one of the opposition parties, and they're not -- they didn't even win Lagos. They
specifically said that the number that INEC presented does not correlated with what -- with the amount people that came. They have different numbers.
Because what they -- what we -- what you guys need to understand is that at the end of the day, all the parties, they make sure that they were doing
their own counts. Because at -- we all knew that INEC was going to do something like this.
NEWTON: Uh-huh. It's interesting though because there are observers and they serve a purpose and people are seeing these discrepancies. And we have
heard, specifically, from Nigeria's youth, with all the passion and all the frustration that you're expressing to us now.
And what happens now, I have to ask you? This election is clearly falling short so far and yet you know that the Nigeria's Electoral Commission has
already said, no way. We're not doing a redo here. As far as we're concerned, you know, they've rejected the claims from the opposition
parties saying, look, these elections have been fair. They've been fine. We will continue to tally the votes.
OLUKANNI: Well, it looks like what's going to happen is they're probably going to continue counting. And it looks like it's going to have to go to
court which is really unfortunate because technically what's supposed to happen in specific situations -- and this is what the electoral law states.
In situations where there is a cancellation. If the amount of votes that were canceled there could possibly affect the final results there's
supposed to be a rerun.
A lot of the polling units, the amount of votes that were cancelled is going to affect a final result. So, what is really interesting is to see
how we're supposed to in a democracy. They're the ones that pass the election. They're the ones that drafted the electoral act. But yet, they
seem to not be a hearing to it. Just for the effect of the results have not been transmitted and up to now they're still choosing not to, that alone in
And it shows that INEC is not only being -- they've been compromised. They're also not being transparent. And they have not conducted a free and
fair election. And if that's what happened, then technically, we're supposed to have another election.
NEWTON: You know -- I know you're making me blow back on this but some people would say, look, Nigeria is in its adolescents in terms of
democracy. This is a very large country, you know, obviously, when you look at the number of registered voters, this is a large task. They are still
The results are, in no way shape or form, official right now. What do you say to that? To say, like, look, patience, just give us some time here.
OLUKANNI: I think the issue is it's not really about patience. It's the fact that INEC has chosen not to communicate and address the issues. We're
-- we have pictures that show that you have a piece of paper where results were recorded. And then after the results were recorded, someone took a pen
and canceled those results out and put a new result, and you want us to accept it?
That's the issue -- is that can you -- INEC explain that. So, I -- we're finding that the chairman is not communicating with us. You know, I think a
lot of times, when you think about the institutions of Nigeria, they're so used to just carrying on and doing whatever they want without
accountability. But Nigerians have finally woken up now to the point where we're saying, no. You must be accountable to us. We're a democracy.
If you ask us to come out and vote, we cast our vote, we expect a result to reflect who we voted for. Not who you've been paid to say it's going to
win. So, there has to be accountability. If not, the INEC chairman needs to go ahead and step down and resign. If he's unable to do his duties based on
what he's supposed to. It says independent -- it's Independent Electoral Commission. It doesn't feel like they're being independent right now.
NEWTON: And we see you and other people in Nigeria, the youth in particular, demanding their franchise from the Electoral Commission. You
know, a lot of this is born of the unexpected results of Peter Obi, who I believe you support. He is the next generation as it were and yet it seems
like a 70-year-old from the ruling party, right now, is in the lead. What do you think it will mean here or if indeed, there isn't that generational
shift. And what is Nigeria's youth looking for in terms of this perhaps being more of a movement that will continue not just for this election.
OLUKANNI: The movement has already started. You know, you have to -- when you think about where this came from, this came from End SARS. And this
came from us finally demanding that we're treated as citizens of our country. And Nigerian's are finally involved in politics. So, it's not
going to be going down. It's not -- we're not going back no matter what happens.
In terms of, you know, the potential of having Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the president, I think a lot of Nigerian youth are worried about his health.
We're worried about his ability to be able to rule Nigeria. We've been ruled by so many people who are much older and they don't seem to be
willing to accept or understand what it is that we need. But even more important, what we're looking for is a competent leader.
Nigeria is at its breaking point. The amount of people that have exodus and left this country because it feels like it's unlivable. Everyone has said
it. We don't have good rules, we don't have good light, we don't have health care, we don't have education. Last year, the average Nigeria youth
spent eight months at home because our schools were on strike, and it didn't seem like a government was -- had any interest.
So, when we're saying we need a mindset of someone that's young, someone that's agile, someone that is going to listen to the Nigerian people. That
is what we need. We need people who are accountable. And a lot of times, when you look at the past leaders or the people that are running, they
don't seem accountable. Which is why a lot of Nigerian youth, we have chosen and we're saying, you know what? This Peter Obi looks like someone
that's listening to us, and we want to make sure that we are heard.
OLUKANNI: The point is for us, whatever was voted on Saturday --
OLUKANNI: -- we want those results. We don't want the results that they are doctoring. That is the most important thing. If we know that these
results are free and fair, whoever wins, wins. But right now, what they're giving us --
OLUKANNI: -- is not what we voted on Saturday.
NEWTON: OK. And we will leave it there for now. But certainly, we hear your passion and you've given us great insight into what's going on now as
we see the fallout of this election. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Now, we don't have to remind you, right, that it's not just Nigeria. Across the world, democracies have been facing stress tests in the 21st century.
"The New York Times" Roger Cohen explores the seismic challenges in his new book called, "An Affirming Flame", where he examines a threat that he
describes as a creeping autocracy.
Now, it's something that he's seen in Russia, in China, and yes, right here in the United States. And the book comprises decades of his work as a
journalist and an opinion columnist. And Roger Cohen joins me now from here in New York.
Can you think of a better entre to your, you know, everything that you talk about and everything you write about to that passionate young woman, you
know, fighting for her electoral franchise there. You know, you've been one of the best at, I have to say, at distilling history and current events.
All of it, at times, especially in the last two years pointing to the frailty of our institutions, like that young woman was just talking about.
I mean, you described this as the age of undoing, right? It's the undoing of world order, of international law, of peace, even climate. You know, I
find your framing almost cinematic but unnerving. You know, how do you describe this undoing.
ROGER COHEN, AUTHOR, "AN AFFIRMING FLAME" AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, thank you, Paula. It is an unnerving time, there's no
question about that. I think we'd assume that the end of the cold war that liberal democracy, open markets, rules based international order. That most
of the world had come to see that as, if not the perfect system for a permit, but at least the best available, better than autocratic or
communist repressive societies.
What we've seen, I think, over the past two or three decades is conspicuous failures in many of our democracies, notably in areas like fast growing
inequality and acute cultural conflict between cities and the hinterland. Many different things have contributed to the rise of autocratic and far-
right nationalist movements, certainly, in Moscow, certainly in Beijing, and elsewhere.
Democracy, as President Biden likes to point out, is in a struggle to convince people that it is the best political system available. And --
COHEN: -- the autocracies are staking claims too. So, it's a very combustible time, I would say, Paula.
NEWTON: Combustible doesn't sound good. And I want to get to the autocracy, which you call a creeping autocracy. What is it that you've
learned about this so-called strongman theory that, in fact, seems alluring, even to those who live and work in thriving democracies?
COHEN: Well, Paula, I quote the Polish Nobel prize winning poet at the beginning of the book, Wislawa Szymborska, saying -- in one of her poems
called "Hatred", when did brotherhood ever draw crowds. And, you know, hatred is very easy to inject into the human psyche. I saw this covering
the war in Bosnia.
Nationalist appeal, scapegoating other people, saying that -- a leader saying, he can revive past glory and that somebody is to blame for the
situation. It's very, very compelling. And 100,000 people were killed in Bosnia, as Christiane and I documented at the time.
Now, we see president Vladimir Putin using a -- an imperialist vision of reconstituting something like the Soviet empire by denying even that
Ukraine exists. And he has still strong support in Russia. He controls the media. What autocracies don't have is the give and take of democracies.
Democracies can change. They can evolve. They are more flexible. Democracies, I would say, are slow to anger, but once they do, you should
NEWTON: You know, you recently won a Polk Prize for your opus, I will call it, "The Making of Vladimir Putin". Incredibly sobering. And it's what you
call, his 22-years lie from statesman to tyrant. I mean, what do you think we missed about him? How did he get there? What was his defining evolution?
COHEN: Well, I think I interviewed President Putin in 2003 in his dacha outside of Moscow. And at the time, I saw a man who seemed somewhat
undecided. The Petersburg man part of him was drawn to the west. He wanted a more open economy. He didn't want a return to state-controlled economy.
And then there was the KGB, SFB man who wanted to control the media. Who wanted to -- an autocratic system which is what his system evolved into. I
don't think it was inevitable when I saw him that it would go in that direction.
I think, you know, Paula, the European Union, the 27-nation European Union, it's a peace magnate. It was established fundamentally to put an end to war
after two world wars on the continent. And there was a very strong health theory in Paris, in Berlin, in elsewhere, that if you established trade,
commerce, interdependency between the countries of Europe, then war would be banished.
And there was a refusal over many years, even after Vladimir Putin controlled and won the endgame in Syria, crushed Aleppo. Even after he
annexed Crimea. Even after he created a little war in the east of Ukraine in the Donbas. There was an inability, a blindness in Europe, an inability
to see him for what he was. A man leading in increasingly militaristic and brutal Russia that saw the means to achieve its strategic objectives in
That is very foreign to the way of thinking of European leaders. They do not think in terms of obtaining their goals through force. Now, as a result
of the war in Ukraine and as a result of President Biden's, I think, bold and courageous leadership, there's been an awakening in Europe. And defense
budgets are going up. Europeans are realizing that there is a real threat to them in Russia. For the first time that I remember, there's talk,
however distant, however remote, however unlikely, of nuclear war in Europe. I mean, this is something new.
NEWTON: Yes, incredibly sobering. And I confess, you know, people like me got it wrong, right. I did -- never assumed Vladimir Putin would invade
Ukraine the way he has. I, too, interviewed him when he took over from Yeltsin. And when we look at what we got wrong and -- you know, I got it
wrong, what then are we getting wrong -- and I'm going to really make a turn here, in China? When we talk about, what is going on with China at
this moment? Some people have already argued -- we've already gotten a lot wrong with China.
NEWTON: You make a very good case in your writings that the profound impact that COVID-19 pandemic has had, how it's shaken us to the core, and
yet what do we take from all of that?
COHEN: Well, I think President Xi Jinping is a different kind of Chinese ruler. First a start, he has perpetuated his rule essentially for life.
There was a tenure limit on Chinese leaders. I think once you have that kind of absolute power it becomes dangerous. He too, like President Putin,
was isolated by COVID. He has an expansionist view of Chinese policy. China, by various means, is expanding its influence wherever it can.
The difference between China and Russia is that China has a major economy, and Russia has an economy, and pretty sophisticated economy. Russia has an
economy based on raw materials and substitutes militarism for what it lacks on the economic side. China is a much more complex threat, I would say,
And of course, China is watching closely what happens in Ukraine and how, to what degree, the west resists Putin. Because there's the question of
Taiwan right there on the table. Xi Jinping has menaced Taiwan in various ways. And of course, believes, like every Chinese leader, that the island
must be reunited with the Mainland. We've seen what China did in Hong Kong, crushing the independents, whatever independents, and whatever elements of
democracy Hong Kong had.
So, I do think that the threat from China is very present. And you know, we handed a lot of technology to China. We handed an awful lot to China
without really -- now we're trying to wean ourselves from transferring production to places like India. Making sure that we are strategically
independent as much as possible from China. But it's fairly late in the day.
NEWTON: You know, I want to ask you just in terms of your own background and how it has affected your reportage over the years. I mean, you are --
obviously, your background is in form, right? You are Jewish of Eastern European background. You were raised in South Africa, I believe, a U.S.
citizen. Obviously, you've lived throughout Europe. You still work there. I mean, when you reflect on that, how has all of that background affected
COHEN: Well, I come from a family, as you just said, Paula, that moved, was displaced from Lithuania to South Africa. My parents were born there. I
spent my infancy there. Then was educated and grew up in England. I left England as a foreign correspondent and became an American almost 20 years
You know, moving like that is loss. It's a loss of something. It's a possibility, but it's also loss. My mother never really adjusted to life in
Britain. I think it's drawn me to, you know, the last (ph) of the Earth to -- I've been in several war zones --
COHEN: -- refugees. There's something deep inside me that, I think, recognizes an element in common with those who have suffered. I think I
also, having moved fairly early in my life to France and realizing that I wanted to write. Everyone has something that makes them tick, I could not
exist without writing.
And there was always something in me that was inside a situation, inside a conversation. And part of me that was slightly -- that was observing, that
was taking whether mental notes or actual notes.
NEWTON: I --
COHEN: And that's driven me, you know, as a writer, as a journalist.
NEWTON: And I do want to get to a final point for our viewers because I don't want to miss this point that you in fact still consider yourself an
optimist. Your title, "An Affirming Flame.
NEWTON: It informs what you say is your stubborn optimism. Why?
COHEN: I think partly because of South Africa. Because I grew up with my cousins all telling me, Paula, you know next year the swimming pools will
be red with blood. Black South Africans, the vast majority, would escape the terrible, terrible oppression of apartheid. And the white community,
including my family of South Africa, would be chased away.
Well, it didn't happen. Why it didn't happen? Because of forgotten words, statesmanship. Somebody like Mandela who puts the future over the past, who
thinks vengeance is all very well. But where does vengeance lead? Nowhere good for the children of this Earth.
So, let's set aside vengeance and try to build something better. So, that was -- that is certainly a big part of it. And I took for a title of the
book, aligned from Auden's poem in September 1939 on the eve of World War II. And it talks about these flickering spots of light that constitute an
affirming flame. And I've seen, even in the darkest and most desperate places that I've been as a journalist, you will encounter forms of humanity
that are uplifting. And we have to believe in that capacity to improve our world.
NEWTON: Right, and we will leave it there on that optimistic note. And I'm glad that you pointed out the endowment that Nelson Mandela left everyone,
at least not just for the people of South Africa. Roger Cohen, again, thanks so much for being here.
COHEN: Thanks so much, Paula.
NEWTON: Appreciate it.
COHEN: Thank you. Thank you. Bye.
NEWTON: Now, throughout the program, right, we've been discussing those dangers to democracy. But what happens when they waiver? We sometimes --
sometimes it can actually shake a hard one piece. Our case in point this time in Northern Ireland where the fate of its devolved government in storm
out is tied to the success of the Good Friday Peace Agreement.
And it's an accord that has held now, thankfully, for almost a quarter century. But Brexit has made a fragile situation even more delicate. Over
the past year, Stormont, in fact has not been functioning. Now, the new trade deal between the U.K. and the E.U. is hoping to create at least some
modicum of stability.
And today, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Belfast, right now, to sell that deal. And joining me on all of this is Anand Menon, he is a
professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London and director of U.K. in a Changing Europe. And changing it is. We want to
get this deal first and foremost, why was it necessary and could it be consequential for Rishi Sunak? It needs to be consequential for him in
ANAND MENON, PROFESSOR OF EUROPEAN AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON AND DIRECTOR, UK IN A CHANGING EUROPE: Well, it was necessary
because the original deal that Boris Johnson negotiated in 2019 had failed to satisfy the U.K., who basically didn't implement it and therefore failed
to satisfy the E.U. who were getting increasingly annoyed with the U.K. for failing to implement it. So, there was a standoff between the two sides.
And this new deal, which is basically an amendment to the old deal, it's not a new treaty, has been a way of try to operationalize what was agreed
to in 2019 to the satisfaction of both sides, and it seems to have done so. And yes, it can be very consequential, consequential for the people of
Northern Ireland, first and foremost. They might get their executive back. We can talk about that further.
It will be easier for consumers in Northern Ireland to buy goods from Great Britain. Easier for traders in Great Britain to trade with Northern
Ireland. And I think this moment marks a reset moment in the U.K.'s relationship with its European partners as well. So, there's an awful lot
going on tied up with this agreement.
NEWTON: And we will get to some of those points. But first, I do want to go to Belfast where Rishi Sunak was there today, selling this deal. Let's
take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position, unique position in the entire world, in
European continent, in having privileged access not just to the U.K. home market, which is enormous, fifth biggest in the world. But also, the
European Union single market. Nobody else has that. No one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: Critics will, of course, as you know, pounce on that in saying, no, we had that before in Northern Ireland. We had it before Brexit.
NEWTON: But what's your take here?
MENON: Well, I mean I can see what he's doing. He's trying to sell this deal to the people of Northern Ireland on the basis that it gives them, as
it does, a totally unique position with, as he said, access to both markets.
The way he was saying it and the sort of frequency with which he said it has caused a bit of a stir back home in London where, you know, a lot of
Twitter memes are out there now of Rishi Sunak talking about the benefits of a single market that his party were instrumental in taking the whole of
the U.K. out of.
So, you need to be careful when dealing with politics in Northern Ireland because there's an audience in Belfast who wants to hear one thing, an
audience in London who might interpreted slightly differently.
NEWTON: Yes. And peace hangs in the balance. None of us can ever forget. You know, do you expect Northern Ireland to prove this deal? And if they
do, you've already spoken about it, what changes, do you believe would happen? Let's see if you we have your audio at least. Can you hear me?
MENON: I can indeed. I think --
NEWTON: Great, go ahead.
MENON: I think, to be honest, that it's impossible to predict what the Democratic Union Party will do. At the moment, the signs by their standards
have been quite positive. But they are going to wait. They're going to read the document. They're going to get their lawyers to read it. It might be a
week or more before we hear their final decision on the tech that Rishi Sunak has brought back.
NEWTON: You know, in your mind, did the E.U. necessarily make significant concessions here knowing it was for the greater good, right? I mean, they
know, as well as everyone knows, dysfunction in Northern Ireland, a diminished British prime minister, not exactly in the E.U. interest here,
what is at hand in Europe.
MENON: I think there's an element of that. I mean, bear in mind, the European Union, like any serious economy, jealously guards its economy and
doesn't want stuff leaking in from outside. And so, they have been quite conscious to make sure that, you know, they don't want an open border with
the United Kingdom or with Northern Ireland.
But, yes, I think they have made concessions. They've taken a lot on trust. I think that says a lot from the relationship that Rishi Sunak has built
within, but they are able, for instance, to allow elements of the U.K. tax regime to operate in Northern Ireland, which they were not happy to see
beforehand. They are willing to limit the amounts of checks of goods going on -- from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. They are taking a lot on
trust. And I think you are right, they want to see the relationship work and they want to have this roweled (ph), the protocol, that has sullied the
last couple of years of U.K./E.U. relations over and done with.
NEWTON: You know, the U.S. role here was quite notable, I think. They had what you would call a backstage presence. Biden and his Irish roots are
wedded to the Good Friday Agreement. He called this deal from a statement an essential step in ensuring the hard-earned peace at progress of the
Belfast Good Friday Agreement. He wants to make sure it is preserved and strengthened, in his words.
I mean, how much of a nudged was this, especially given that a power sharing deal, at this hour, in Northern Ireland is still elusive?
MENON: I think it was important. We shouldn't get this sort of go mad about this. I mean, under Boris Johnson, the Americans were making their
feelings perfectly clear and it had very little impact on him. Now, I think, Rishi Sunak wants to rebuild a relationship with the European Union
anyway. So, I think his approach is different.
But added to that is the carrot of a potential presidential visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April. And that, I
think, was quite powerful and hurried with two sides along. I think both sides would love to see that visit in April. They'd love to see President
Biden to come here. They'd equally as much for him to announce some U.S. investments in Northern Ireland. So, I think that was in their mind, though
I don't think it was determining.
NEWTON: And that's a good point. And perhaps, it can play more of a role now, now that the deal is done, especially if President Biden does indeed
decide that he will visit. We have to talk about Brexit, right? Sunak would love this deal to --
NEWTON: -- really headline the epitaph that the Brexit debate is done. But will it serve that purpose for him? I'm interested to know that if you are
in Britain right now, do you put this deal in the win or the loss column, whether -- depending on your perspective on Brexit? And, you know, we do
return to the words of Tony Blair, you know, the former labor prime minister, he said Brexit would also be pointless and painful, you know.
Does this deal refute that or does it make his point?
MENON: Well, it depends what your priorities are. If you think that being part of a system whose laws take precedence over your laws, if you think
having a system of freedom of movement where people from Europe can come here and you don't fully get to control your immigration policy, it's
something you don't want, you are willing to leave the European Union to reassert that control over it. So, it's very much depends on your
priorities, what you think about Brexit.
As to whether Brexit is done, what I'd say is this. If you live next to a continental sized economy, you spend a lot of your time fretting about it.
Canadians spend a lot of their time thinking about the United States. China's neighbors spend a lot of their time thinking about China. In the
same way, the E.U.'s neighbors are sort of condemned to spend quite a lot of their time worrying about the European Union because the size of its
economy means that what it does has a disproportionate impact on the choices they face.
So, you know, the formal negotiating process of Brexit might be done, but this relationship will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future, I
NEWTON: And Rishi Sunak has certainly said that he wants this to be a new beginning in his relationship with the E.U. I don't have a lot of time
left, but do you think that the Tory Party itself, those Brexiteers, we'll, really, it will cost -- they'll take a pound of flesh out of this? That if
they do not like this deal, they will make a lot of noise?
MENON: I'm not so sure, to be honest. I think there are few are fewer of them than they used to be. They have different concerns, China, net zero,
climate change. So, there's only a few of them left. And at the moment, it looks like Rishi Sunak is going to get this through his party with only a
minor bit of grumbling on the sort of backstage.
NEWTON: Lots to grumble about these days we hear from Britain. We will wait to see, in fact, if Northern Ireland does, in fact, approve this deal.
Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.
MENON: Thank you.
NEWTON: And now, to a topic which is, of course, difficult but so important to discuss. New York Times Columnist David Brooks lost his
lifelong friend, Peter, to suicide last April, three years after he was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Now, David has detailed what he learned throughout Peter's journey in his latest column, "How Do You Serve a Friend in Despair?" Now, he joins Hari
Sreenivasan to share some of those lessons that he's learned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, thanks. David Brooks, thank you so much for joining us. You wrote a column that resonated
with so many "New York Times" readers, I think in part because it wasn't what you usually write. It wasn't about politics. It wasn't about ideology.
It was about your friend, Peter. And the title of it is, "How Do You Serve a Friend in Despair?"
First, for the audience who might not have read the column, tell us a little bit about Peter.
DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Well, Peter and I met when we were 11. We went to the same summer camp in Ivoryton, Connecticut, a camp called
Incarnation Camp. And we started out as campers and were there for about 10 years together as campers and counselors. And we stayed friends for life.
Oldest friend I ever had.
And I described him as exuberantly playful. He was the kind of guy who -- the story I tell is he was skipping around our little dining room there. He
was a big guy, probably about six-three, six-four. And he is skipping around, you know, just being his joyous self, and he tries to slip through
-- skip through a doorway and he slams his head on the top of the door frame and he lands flat on his back, and we all cracked up. He cracks up.
And that to me is him.
And as he aged, he got probably a little more serious. He did well in school. Became -- when he joined the navy, he became an eye surgeon. And he
was -- my wife had a phrase about him that I put in the piece, which is, he was extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. And she meant that as a
high compliment, which is to say he was masculine the way you are supposed to be masculine, just understated and gentle. A father the way you are
supposed to be a father, filled with just playfulness and joy and pride in his sons.
And he always said, he was the luckiest man in his marriage because he -- the person the whole world he wanted to talk to when he got home at night
was going to be sitting there right across from him at the dining room table. So, he had, in many ways, a very rich and blessed life.
SREENIVASAN: You describe a change in the spring of 2019. What happened?
BROOKS: Yes. I went back -- we went back to camp to just hang out there. And it was in June of 2019. And my wife noticed something immediately in
him, that his affect, his emotional state, had gone flat. And there was a flatness in his voice. And there was this certain thing we did every time,
you're not going to believe this, Hari, but I play basketball.
And so, our favorite thing to do was to play basketball. And then, go around and jump in the lake by there and go swimming. And he was doing the
thing he loved to do most in the world, and he still wasn't enjoying it. And so, he pulled us aside at the end of the weekend and said, there's
something amiss, there's something different with me. And he just asked for our friendship and support, which, of course, was easy to give.
SREENIVASAN: So, he was conscious that there was a change in how he was perceiving the world. What steps was he taking to figure it out?
BROOKS: Well, you know, he was a doctor. And so, he was early on diagnosed with clinical depression. And he, of course, saw -- I said I -- there are
almost two Pete's during the three years that he suffered from this severe depression. The first Pete was the one who is suffering. And the second
Pete was the one who is standing back and observing himself, and just trying to figure out. And they went through every possible treatment they
could think of.
And I think the tour through the health care system was filled with choices and severe and bitter disappointments when something wouldn't work. And his
wife, Jen, and I, have spoken often about this, that she -- they both came to realize that the mental health care system is horribly siloed. That in
her case, she's had cancer and they had what they call a tumor board, a whole bunch of different doctors, all bringing different perspectives on
But in mental health, at least in many places, you try one treatment with one doctor, you build a relationship with that doctor. And then, if the
treatment doesn't work, you are gone, you are off to the next doctor. And so, it's just one silo after another.
And so, he was not someone who is going untreated. He was someone who tried everything through the years with this brutal illness, these lying voices,
this obsessive compulsion. Pete fought it every step of the way and it was revelatory to me how little we know about depression, even after all these
years, after so many people have suffered from it and how little research money we are devoting to it. And, you know, we really should be devoting a
lot more because it has become an epidemic as we know.
SREENIVASAN: You know, part of what is intriguing about your friend, I think, to a lot of the readers is that this is a person, and we say this
often after suicide, seemed to have it all, right? He had a support system. He had people who loved him, that he loved, a wonderful family. He was
aware that this was happening and yet, at the end, he took his own life.
And what does that say to you about how deep depression is?
BROOKS: Yes. It's just a monster of a disease. And, you know, I'm not -- Stephen Fry has a saying, the actor, that if you have a friend with
depression, don't ask him why. And I think -- just walk with them and be there at the other end. And I think that -- I've learned a lot from that,
that you don't want to ask why. I'm not sure -- you know, Pete had theories, but I'm not sure there really is a why.
And I think -- I just -- you know, in my own little way I learned a lot about the disease during those three years. And the first thing I've
learned was that don't think you can understand it by extrapolating from your own periods of sadness if you have never suffered your own depression.
It's not an extension of sadness. It's an altered state of consciousness.
And I learned that, you know, don't try to fix the other person. Early on, in those three years, when we were talking by phone, mostly during COVID, I
would say, you know, you used to love going to Vietnam and doing surgery and, you know, curing people. Do that. Go do that. And that was my
suggestions. And I've since learned that if you try to give people suggestions on how to get out of it, really, you're just telling them you
just don't get it. You just don't understand what they are going through. It's not the ideas about what to do, it's the motivational desire, it's the
-- just the loss of all pleasure.
Second thing I would do is like say, you got to create -- you know, just -- you know, we just said, you got it all. You're a successful and very
accomplished surgeon. You've got wonderful kids, a wonderful marriage. Think how good your life is. And I've learned that's also not the right
thing to say because if you tell people, they should be enjoying, they feel bad about not enjoying the things that are palpably enjoyable. And so, I
learned that's just not how to do it.
And now, just finally, the one thing I think I helped, the one nicest thing I did that Pete found some solace in, I sent him a video, which I recommend
to viewers, which is -- was a sermon given by my news -- our colleague, Michael Gerson, who had suffered from depression. And he gave a sermon
about it at the National Cathedral and some online, on YouTube. And he said, depression is a malfunction in the apparatus we used to perceive
reality. And that is the person who is suffering depression isn't seeing reality, frankly, the way they should.
And Mike said he had these obsessive-compulsive voices in his head lying to him, that you are not worth anything. No one will miss you. And I think
when I sent Pete that video, that one thing Pete said, yes, that is what it's like. And so, I really got an appreciation for the magnitude of the
SREENIVASAN: I lost a friend to this a few years ago and I still struggle with a kind of mix of emotions that I feel about it. And on the one hand,
obviously, I'm incredibly sad that I lost this buddy of mine who've I've loved for a long time and who I won't get to grow old with. And then, at
the same time, there is these little hangs of anger, like, why did you do this? Why did you leave your wife and daughters? Why did you leave me and
all of our friends? Right? It's like a very complex web of emotions that this triggers for so many people around you in a way that, if you busted a
leg, it wouldn't, you know. It's just horrifying to those that are kind of left behind.
BROOKS: It's because we have the illusion that is freewill. That the -- that we have the illusion that that person's mind is on our side, and that
person's mind is on his side. And so, we assume our mind is on their side. And so, we think, well, how did you do this? And I think Pete -- I don't
think he ever told me this, but I think in his final days Pete persuaded himself that he was doing a favor for his family. He was relieving them of
the burden. Maybe your friend had the same thoughts.
And all I can tell you, if anybody has ever had that thought go through their mind, having lived through the wreckage of what happened, I can tell
you that that thought is completely wrong. But, you know, we -- so, I think we have learned to try to overcome that thought, that you just made a big
mistake because the machine with which they made the mistake was severely malfunctioning.
And the other thing, I would say, two other quick things, Hari. The first thing is I've learned I feel I should've done other things differently. I
should have sent him more postcards, just little text saying, you know, I'm thinking about you. You don't need to reply. I should have done that. And
so, I feel regret about that. But I don't think there's anything any of us could have done to alter what happened.
And so, that's, I think, something that those of us who are still here should give ourselves, you know, some forgiveness about this disease. If it
was bigger than my friend Pete or your friend, that's going to be bigger than us.
SREENIVASAN: According to the NIH, between 2000 and 2020, one in five Americans were affected by mental illness. And the CDC put out a Youth Risk
Behavior Survey this month and that was incredibly disturbing. According to the report, in 2021 almost 60 percent of female students experienced
persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year. Nearly 25 percent made a suicide plan. That's one in four young girls.
This is just staggering, that if it was anything else that was affecting this large of a proportion of our population, you'd think we would move
heaven and earth to do something about it.
BROOKS: Yes. And the research into depression is still so much smaller than cancer and other things, which, obviously, we should be researching.
And I think about it in two levels. First on the individual level, with my friend or your friend, there is no great trend that explains it. It was
particular to that person. But I think society, on a societal level, I do think we can point to some trends.
I mean, for the shocking numbers with teenage girls, the number one answer is social media. Their social participation is at its highest. And I do
think it's -- and if you look at the trends in when it really turned and spiked, it's right around 2012 and 2013, and that's the smartphone. That is
when the smartphone happened.
And so, social media plays just a gigantic role. It doesn't, I don't think, play a role for -- a lot of the other people who are suffering from
depression, suicide, or even the deaths of despair where, you know, older men presumably.
And there, I would point to two things. One, the loss of community. The bowling alone. The idea that we people used to be ensconced and enshrouded
in this web of thick relationships, an oaks (ph) club, a bowling league, at a church or a synagogue, or a mosque. And just a lot of people are not
enshrouded in those webs or rich relationships the way they used to.
And then, the second, and this would be a little more controversial, but it's my theory, which is that for many centuries in our different cultures
and our different religions and our different civilizations, we taught each other how to be considerate to each other in the daily rituals of life.
There was a great cause of what you would call moral formation, trying to teach us how to be kind, just like how to do hard social skills, how to
have a hard conversation, how to disagree with respect, how to ask for forgiveness, how to sit through someone who is suffering and have a good
And for some reason, in our culture, we don't teach those skills. And I feel we have just dropped the ball in teaching the elemental social skills
of tending to each other.
SREENIVASAN: What is it, you think, that explains the kind of disorientation for us who have been left behind? I mean, you write
eloquently that, you know, it's as if I went to Montana and suddenly, the mountains had disappeared. That's a good way to look at it. But why do you
think that is, that it is so monumental to friends and family?
BROOKS: Yes. I mean, the -- you know, especially with Pete that I knew since I was 11, he's basically lifelong friend. Somebody who I always
assumed would always be there. And suddenly, to have him not there, it's like just disorienting. But the grief of when it's the death of a friend is
different and unusual. And I found it more serious than I anticipated.
Hari, back when you and I were Wayward Youths, we used to do a little program called "The Doubleheader." And you, me and Mark Shields would get
together to talk about sports.
BROOKS: And so, Mark and I were partners on the news hour for 20 odd years, and he also died last year. And it's just like, that guy has just
been around and he's been woven into your life. And Mike Gerson whose sermon I quoted, he also dies. And so, those three losses were, for me, an
introduction into grief of once friends.
And it really is -- and when -- you know, I've learned that when you suffer a grief, it basically upsets all the mental models of reality that you have
in you. What one expert called your assumptive world, the assumptions you make about reality. And those models are all destroyed and you have to go
through a process to make a new set of models. You have a new set of assumptions about the world and what it's like. And that's just a process
of grief that's unconscious, that goes, has its own pace, that's filled with repetitions and painful memories and happy memories and it's
unpredictable. And there's no shortcuts through that process.
SREENIVASAN: You know, your article, your column was titled "How Do You Serve a Friend in Despair?" So, what's your tip on how we can serve people
in our lives that we find in these situations?
BROOKS: Yes. I think -- and any encounter, but especially an encounter with someone who's suffering, they are looking to you to answer a few basic
questions. Do I matter to you? Am I a priority for you? Are you still there? Will you leave me? And I think those are the only questions you can
answer. You can't answer the questions, why this is happening? You can answer the question, how do you get out of this? You can only answer the
questions, am I a priority for you? Will you walk with me?
And I think that's the best you can do. You just ride it out. And toward the end of the process, I wasn't trying to do much. I was just trying to be
present as the normal friend we always had, and hoping that he would be able to be present, the normal front he always was. So, in some sense, it's
a scaling down of expectations, but to be present is no small thing to somebody.
And then, I had another friend who was a mutual friend of mine and Pete, who said, you know, give his spouse or give the people who are -- his
primary caretakers, give them some time off. Give them some moments to relax. And so, that was also something I wish I had done a little more, of
COVID, sort of inhibited this and that, but I do think those were also wise words.
SREENIVASAN: Columnist for "The New York Times," David Brooks, thank you so much for the column and for writing this, and my condolences to Pete's
family and to you and your -- the rest of Pete's friends for their loss.
BROOKS: Well, thank you, Hari. It's good to be with you again. It's good to be -- and it's good to be able to talk about Pete.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEWTON: A worthy conversation there. So, if you or anyone you know is in need of help in the United States, you can call or text 988 to reach the
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It provides confidential support. And for anyone outside of the United States, a worldwide direct of resources and
international hotlines is provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. You can also turn to the global organization,
And finally, before we leave you, nature's very own a light show as the Northern Lights illuminated the sky right across Europe. Shimmering greens
and purples were dancing over towns in England. I mean, look at that. In Sweden, the celestial phenomenon captivated spectators as the ethereal glow
enveloped tonight. Wow.
The dazzling spectacle, also known as the Aurora Borealis, is caused -- a little fact here -- by the activity on the surface of the sun. Now, for a
millennia, the Northern Lights have inspired and amazed people with many even traveling to Iceland where it's a common occurrence. Everyone just
wants to catch a glimpse. And who can bind them?
That does it for us for now. And if you ever miss a show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast, or on your screen,
right now, a QR code. All you need to do is pick up your phone and scan it with your camera. You can also find it at cnn.com/podcast and all major
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I want to thank all of you for watching. For Christiane Amanpour, I am Paula Newton. Goodbye from New York.